Gay rights, Mennonites and lots of questions

The Associated Press has a story headlined “Pastor on trial in Vt; mom still AWOL with child.” It begins:

A federal judge advised jurors Tuesday to remain objective as they hear evidence in a criminal case stemming from a Vermont child-custody dispute that touches on issues of religion and gay rights.

OK. So it touches on religion and gay rights. Interesting! I can’t wait to hear more about the religion angle in particular. We learn that the jury is hearing a case against a Mennonite pastor who is accused of helping a woman flee the U.S. with her biological child. She shared custody of that child with her former lesbian partner. Sounds like we’ve got a good start on the gay rights issue.

But what is the religious issue? We learn about the case against the man and what the maximum penalty is. We learn that the potential jurors were asked about their beliefs regarding same-sex relationships and religion.

The entirety of the discussion about the religious angles to the case, though is here:

Kenneth Miller is accused of helping Lisa Miller and her daughter travel from Virginia to Canada, then to Nicaragua in September 2009 where they lived among Mennonites. The current whereabouts of the mother and her now-10-year-old child are unknown.

So the defendant is Mennonite and the mother and daughter were living among Mennonites.

While that is interesting, it doesn’t tell us anything whatsoever about the “religious” issue in this case. I have no doubt that there is more. In fact, I’ve followed this case enough to know that there is much more of a religion angle at least as it relates to the biological mother of the child.

Was the Mennonite pastor her pastor? Was he just a friend? Is he accused of setting her up with Mennonites? If so, was that because of some particular religious belief or just because it was people he knew? Do his views on gay unions come into play?

Maybe it’s because my dad is a pastor, but the fact that he’s a pastor tells us nothing about the religious issues in play here. We need much more info if it’s going to be claimed in the lede that this case revolves around religious issues.

Photo of woman with questions via Shutterstock.

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  • dalea

    I have been following this case also. From what I can tell, based on the coverage, the Mennonite side has given no interviews, has spoken to no press and has generally been silent on the issue. It looks like the religious angle is simply assumed or inputed. It does not have any sourcing from the people involved. When one side will not speak to the press, reporting becomes difficult.

  • Mark C.

    The religions angle will quickly be found by simple google searches or known if one has followed the matter over the years.

    The story of Lisa Miller, Janet Jenkins, and their daughter Isabella has been going on for quite a while now. Miller and Jenkins had a domestic partnership in Vermont, and Jenkins was legally recognized as a parent to Isabella. After their domestic partnership broke up, Jenkins was given visitation rights by the courts in Vermont. Miller moved to Virginia, where she was originally from, and attempted to block Jenkins’s visitation rights, partly trying to use Virginia’s non recognition of Vermont domestic partnerships. Eventually Virginia courts ruled that Vermont had jurisdiction. Back in Vermont the courts ruled Miller in contempt of court and awarded custody of Isabella to Jenkins. Miller then disappeared with her daughter. Religion has played a role in this from the beginning of the custody battle. Miller has pointed to conservative Christian morality rational for wanting to block her former partner from access to her daughter. Her legal case was argued by conservative Christian movement lawyers, particularly from the Liberty Council organization connected with Liberty University.

    The New York times published a story on the situation:

  • Mollie

    Mark C.,

    Yes, I noted that I was somewhat familiar with the religion angle with regard to the mother. But this is a story about a case against a Mennonite pastor. That’s the religion angle that needs to be explained for this story (even if the one you mention above could have been explained a tad more fully for the story, too).